Posts Tagged ‘Business Planning’


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Why You Need Customer Service Meetings

People in a Business MeetingHandling customer service is a 24/7 job for a small business, so it’s tempting to let regular meetings with your customer service employees fall by the wayside. Don’t. Meeting regularly with your team is essential to keeping your customer service stellar. Here are topics you and your team should discuss at your meetings:

Weekly:

Weekly customer service meetings should be fairly quick—30 minutes to an hour at most—to keep the team energized and enthusiastic (and informed).

  • Briefly review issues that have come up since the last meeting, such as specific customer service problems that representatives had difficulty resolving. Discussing these with the whole team enables you to tap into everyone’s experience to come up with guidelines that all your customer service reps can follow if the situation arises again.
  • Review the prior week’s customer service metrics such as average time for a call to be answered, average time spent on a call, average number of contacts for an issue to be resolved, etc. This can be done quickly to see if you are on track to meet your goals or if you’re falling behind.
  • Introduce new business such as new employees on the customer service team, new systems or procedures, and new products or services that customer service employees need to know about.
  • Reward outstanding customer service representatives by honoring employees who went “above and beyond” in the past week. Be sure to explain how what the person did can be a model for other customer service employees in the future and what lesson should be learned from the actions.

Monthly:

At monthly customer service meetings, it’s a good idea to focus on one subject in depth. This could include:

  • Explore your metrics over the past month in depth to note trends and, if necessary, brainstorm ideas for improving performance. For instance, if you notice calls are taking longer than desired, is this because employees are having trouble resolving problems, or because they’re spending more time interacting to build customer relationships? If the former, find a way to fix it—if the latter, perhaps you should set longer goal times for calls.
  • Providing extensive training about new products and/or services. You might bring vendors in to demonstrate new products, or offer in-house training in how to resolve potential problems with a new product or service.

While technology can help streamline service, there’s no substitute for meetings with your customer service employees if you want to help them be the best they can be. 


VoIP Speed Test: Is Your Network Ready?

Reliable Internet is essential to conducting business today. As a business professional, you need to be able to email, search for answers to your questions, back up and store your important files, collaborate with team members via virtual meetings, and even make and receive phone calls. In order for the various communication technologies your business relies on to be successful, you need to have enough Internet bandwidth.

When you’re looking to switch to a reliable and affordable cloud phone service, such as Nextiva, you’ll need to ensure your network has enough bandwidth to support the volume of calls your business handles and your other devices. That’s where the VoIP Speed Test with Nextiva comes in.

The Nextiva Speed Test tells you important information about your network such as:

  • Download and upload speed
  • Ping and Jitter times
  • Overall capacity

Take the Nextiva Speed Test to find out if your network is ready for your switch to a hosted phone service. Once you have your results, a Nextiva Account Executive can go through them with you to determine if any changes will need to be made to your current network.

Speed Test 3

Once your network is ready, the fun part begins! You’ll then move on to deciding which features will improve your communication with customers, increase your team’s productivity and efficiency, and will help you reach your business goals.  

To learn more about Nextiva’s business cloud phone service and speak to an Account Executive, please visit nextiva.com.  


What is Business Cloud Phone Service?

Cloud Phone ServiceWhat is the Cloud?

The “cloud” has been a hot term in tech for a while, but what is it? If you ask your grandmother, she may say it’s the white balls up in the sky. And if you ask a computer science engineer you may get a technical answer about servers, data centers and networks. But what does it mean for you and your business?

Moving your business to the cloud, and specifically your phone service, allows you to access your files, software programs, and phone from anywhere, at anytime, as long as you have an Internet connection.  You don’t have to worry about lugging stuff around with you, losing important information or missing a call. Today’s business environment demands that we are always available and connected to our customers—whether its over the phone, via email, or replying to a post on social media. Running your business in the cloud allows you to meet your customers’ demands no matter where you are.

Why Your Business Needs a Cloud Phone System

While cloud technology is still relatively new, it can save your business a significant amount of time, resources and money, especially when it comes to your phone system. A cloud phone system, also know as a hosted phone system or VoIP, is managed and maintained by the provider, such as Nextiva, so you don’t need to have an IT person on staff. Everything is done virtually.

A few of the benefits include:

  • Unlimited calling to the U.S., Canada & Puerto Rico
  • Flat monthly fee per line of service
  • No on-site IT professional needed
  • Lines of service can be added or reduced quickly
  • Advanced call routing based on your needs and preferences
  • Call forwarding
  • Connect multiple offices and remote workers to easily transfer calls
  • Voicemails sent to your email via audio file or transcription
  • Provider handles system maintenance
  • Always have the latest technology

This is just the tip of the iceberg. A cloud phone system can provide your business with features that will take your communication to the next level. To learn more, visit nextiva.com.   


Should I Borrow Money from Friends or Family for My Business?

3-15 loaning friend money smallGetting your business started requires money, and while there are many sources for finding this funding, one often overlooked source is friends and family. On the one hand, a friend or family member may be able to offer you an interest-free loan that you wouldn’t qualify for at the bank, but on the other hand, money and the people you’re close to don’t always mix well. Family and friendship dynamics are delicate, so carefully evaluate your relationship with possible creditors before opting for this financing source. Use these five steps to ensure a successful outcome.

Assess the risks from the outset

Begin by having a blunt conversation with your future financier. Talk to her about the risks and pitfalls of this transaction. The idea is not to spoil her enthusiasm in investing in your business, but rather to confront the harsh realities that small businesses sometimes face. If, after this conversation, your benefactor is still ready to loan you money, you have done your part to let her know of the risks she’s taking.

Decide if it’s an investment or loan

Continue the discussion by assessing whether or not your creditor would like to come aboard as a partner and take equity in your company or simply loan you the money and stay out of operations. Be comfortable with the terms and the equity you give, and consider whether this person would be an asset as an advisor to the company or not.

Have a formal agreement

Even if you trust one another implicitly, having a formal contract for the loan or investment is still a good idea. You may not need a lawyer to work out the details, but if the amount of money is substantial, you’ll definitely need an accountant. If your benefactor wants to forego a formal agreement, it may still be necessary to discuss more precise procedures such as what to do in the event of default or bankruptcy. Never promise something that you cannot deliver.

Keep it professional

Treat your private creditor like you treat your bank. Pay on time or early if that’s part of your agreement, and keep track of every transaction. Don’t take advantage of your personal relationship to pay late or not at all. Being formal and professional ensures that you don’t blur lines between business and personal relationships.

Put everything out on the table

Create the habit of communicating with your friend or family member. Let her know regularly how business is progressing. Never make her pursue you for updates. Whether you have challenges or successes, keep her in the loop in the way you would other partners or investors. She will appreciate this and feel more vested in the success of your company.

Deciding to borrow money from someone you’re close to is a decision you need to spend time reflecting on. The last thing you want to do is jeopardize your personal relationship with that person, and money has a funny way of doing that sometimes. Keep the lines of communication open and make sure you properly manage your investor’s expectations.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Don’t Let Technology Destroy Your Humanity

4-14 automated customer service smallWhen it comes to customer service, how much automation is too much? For a small business owner, using technology to automate customer service assistance—such as enabling customers to schedule appointments online or request quotes online—saves time and money.

However, it’s important to think about customer service not only from a business standpoint, but also from your customers’ point of view as human beings.

A friend of mine recently had two experiences in medical offices that illustrate this point. When she visited her doctor’s office, she was surprised to see that the entire check-in process had been automated. She signed in on a clipboard next to a sign saying “Check In Here” with an arrow pointing to a computer terminal. The touchscreen guided her to update and confirm address, insurance and other information. The receptionist and two nurses sitting a few feet away never even bothered to glance up.

My friend admitted that while she understood the motivation behind the change, it bothered her a bit. “When you’re about to put on one of those skimpy exam gowns and bare your all to the doctor, it would be nice if someone at least said ‘Hello’ first,” she grumbled. She left the office feeling awfully dissatisfied with the customer service. 

A few weeks later, the same friend went to get some tests done at another medical office. This time, she was given an iPad to check in on, but it was a totally different experience. First, she was greeted by a genuinely friendly receptionist, who handed her the iPad, showed her how to get started, walked her over to a seat, and checked on her a few minutes later to make sure she wasn’t having any problems. What a world of difference! My friend left feeling delighted with the new technology—and feeling positive about the medical office.

Whenever you’re making technological changes to your customer service, keep in mind that…

…Different generations have different expectations. My friend is 50, but a 20-something customer might have loved the concept of the no-human-contact medical office. Seniors, for whom doctor’s appointments are often one of their only social outlets, would likely hate it. In general, younger people love self-service, while older people feel slighted by it.

….Your industry matters, too. A high-touch or social-oriented business like a beauty salon or restaurant may benefit from more of a personal touch in customer service.

…Customers’ emotional state matters. Customers who are stressed about a decision or problem may prefer to talk to a live person; those who just need some basic information may be happy to get it from a FAQ list. If you offer financial consulting or tax preparation, you’re likely to be dealing with the former. If you sell shoelaces, you can probably get away with the latter.

The lesson: When it comes to customer service, don’t let your technology get in the way of your humanity. 


Mondays with Mike: How Ripple Innovation Can Invigorate Your Business

4-13 Ripple effectIt always hits me the same time every year.  I don’t know whether it’s a craving for warmer weather, or the realization that it’s time to dig deep and get started making the year a successful one, but the end of the first quarter is always a tough time for me.  I’m tired of winter in New Jersey, and my summer vacation is too far off to lift my spirits.

 Whatever the reason, by the end of March, I feel like I’m in a slump.  My strategy to shake off the winter doldrums, though, works every time.  I find a problem in my business – something I simply haven’t tackled yet, and I set out to make things better.  One of the most effective ways I’ve found to fix something that’s broken, and brighten my spirits at the same time, is to use ripple innovation.  Here’s how it works:

  1. Ripple 1:  Find the solution within your own company.  Far too often we can’t see a solution because we’re stuck in our own head – blinded by our compartmentalized approach to problem solving.  So you’re looking for ways to improve your IT support?  Ask your sales force.  Not only will they have situational awareness your IT guys and gals don’t, but you never know – they might also have more tech skills than you realize.  Look outside the department you’re trying to revitalize.
  2. Ripple 2:  Find the solution inside your industry.  Look to your competitors (who typically face the same challenges you do,) and see how they do business.  Maybe your competitor’s Facebook page brings in tons of new business.  Maybe the guy down the street has found a sharper price on office supplies.  Look around to find best practices among your competition.
  3. Ripple 3:  Find the solution in any industry.  You may think your business is industry specific, but you’ll be surprised what you can learn from broadening your perspective.  The food truck that moves around town, yet always manages to have a line when they pull in?  They might be using Twitter in a way you can imitate.  The jewelry store with a reputation for the best customer service in the world?  You can learn something about consumer loyalty that will translate to your company, too.
  4. Ripple 4:  Find the solution in nature.  If you’re really stuck, try zooming out even further, to look at the way the natural world works.  Say you’re having trouble retaining employees, even though you pay great wages.  You might need to look at animals who spend a little longer nurturing their young before sending them off into the world.  After all, animals who hatch and have to fend for themselves right away often have rather high mortality rates.  Try implementing a longer training period, so when you turn your employees loose, they’re able to thrive on their own.

The basic idea of ripple innovation is that you have a whole world to learn from.  Broadening your perspective to include other departments, companies, industries, and even other creatures can only benefit you and help inspire a new period of growth. 


How to Ensure that Email Doesn’t Suck the Life Out of Your Business

4-10 to many emails smallRemember when email was fun?  We used to delight in hearing those three little words, “You’ve got mail”.  But nowadays, email has become one of the biggest time sucks in business.

Unless you hone your habits, email (and texting, for that matter) can consume countless hours of your business day. Here are four habits that can help you retain control of your inbox and focus more time growing your business.

1. Follow the Touch Once Rule

This rule dates back to the olden days, when the U.S. Postal Service delivered mountains of envelopes every day. The key to efficiency was to open the envelope, look at the contents, and then immediately take action. The junk mail went into the recycling bin, while the important things either got passed on to someone else or, at the very least, into the to-do bin for immediate action.

Email is no different, except that you don’t have to deal with envelopes. If a message requires action, take that action right now, forward it to the proper person or put it on your electronic calendar or to-do list. Everything else goes into your email trash bin.

2. Make “Safe” Unsubscribe Your Best Friend

This recommendation comes with a warning: done incorrectly, you could actually become buried in spam, when it only came up to your knees before you started unsubscribing. Many spammers initially take a guess at your email address. Once your unsubscribe message confirms that address, they pass it along to other spammers.

Still, using the unsubscribe link in a message from a reputable business can substantially cut down the number of email messages that you receive every day. For the rest of them, just mark them as spam to get them out of your inbox and into the junk mail folder, where they belong.

3. Stay True to Your Own Schedule

As a small business owner, you have to tread a fine line between remaining committed to your daily schedule and being responsive to customer needs. But you’re not an emergency room doctor — even business crises can wait an hour or two before gaining your time and attention.

Some people absolutely want to know first thing in the morning if anything requires immediate attention. If your curiosity is so strong that it prevents you from meeting your obligations, you may need to take a look before you start your day. Most people become more efficient, however, when they hold off on the email until later in the day.

Regardless of when you take that first peek, further email activity should be scheduled into your day. Your planned activities are just as important (probably more so) than constantly checking the mail. Limit the number of times that you check email to avoid interrupting other scheduled work. And you probably should turn off the audio and visual email notifications to avoid temptation.

4. Recognize that Not Every Message Requires a Reply

Every conversation has to end at some point and you don’t always have to get the last word. Once the back-and-forth stops being productive, it has gone on too long. So, when customer messages tell you that the problem is solved — or just say “thank you,” maybe they’ll be even more appreciative if you do not respond.

There are civil ways to stop the madness. For example, if you need to keep someone informed, just tell them that your message is for information only and no response is necessary. And if you use an auto-responder that replies to all incoming email, make sure that it politely states that you will respond only when a response is required.

While good email habits are a must, do not waste time trying to achieve perfection (aka achieving “inbox zero”). Even with good email habits, you’ll probably never completely empty your inbox — the cyber world just doesn’t work that way. Your true goal should be to avoid losing important communications while gaining back valuable time. With any luck, your email recipients will follow your example until good email habits abound across the world.


Mondays with Mike: 7 Ways To Cut Costs Without Stifling Growth

4-6 Cost Cutting  smallToo often, we discover a new way to reduce our expenditures, only to find out it’s not ultimately good for our bottom line.  The trick is to manage our costs, while still flourishing.  I know – that’s easier to say than do.  But here are seven sure-fire ways to keep your business growing on the cheap.

  1. Pool your resources.  You and other local businesses share many of the same needs.  You need things like ink for your printers, paper towels for the kitchen, and health insurance coverage for your staff.  If you can come together, assess your needs, and approach your providers for these goods and services, you can often negotiate for a better group rate.  Your ink supplier, for example, will likely win some new customers, and you’ll all save money.
  2. Hire contractors.  Take a step back from your staff and assess your real staffing needs.  Often it’s advantageous to hire contractors for certain jobs, paying them a much higher hourly rate, but only using them as needed.  Your staff gets more flexible work days, and you save money in the end.
  3. Free advertising.  So one of your competitors goes out of business, but their billboard on the edge of town is still standing, inviting prospective customers to call their now-out-of-service number.  Call the phone company and arrange to have that old phone number forward to your line.  When the phone rings, you can explain the situation and detail what you’re willing to do to earn that customer’s business.  Why pay for a billboard when you can get one for free?
  4. Cut phone costs.  Most business owners don’t realize how much money they spend annually on their phone services.  Explore lower cost – or even no cost – options like Nextiva.  You may find better call quality and services for far less than you’re paying now.
  5. Assess your office space.  Over the life of your business, you may find that you expand or contract from time to time.  When you’re paying for a space that’s larger than you need, you’re wasting money.  See if sharing a space with another company makes sense, or look for options with shared public areas – kitchens or restrooms.  Make the most of your rent dollars.  Also keep in mind that landlords with space that’s been vacant for a long period of time are far more willing to negotiate rates.
  6. Train your own talent.  Superstar, experienced employees command high wages – no two ways about it.  If you hire raw talent, and take the time to bring your staff up to speed on your own, you can realize huge staffing savings.  Whether you take a chance on an intern or find a diamond in the rough worth taking a chance on, training staff not only saves you money, but also lets your mold your staff to work the way you want.
  7. Get your staff involved.  One of the best moves I ever made was to have a sit-down with my employees and solicit their help in finding ways to trim unnecessary expenses.  They came up with ideas that would never have occurred to me, and when they pitched in, we had a whole team of people working to improve the bottom line.

Cutting costs doesn’t have to be painful.  Finding creative, win-win approaches is the key to making successful, long-term changes without inhibiting your company’s growth. 


A Look At The Omnichannel Retail Customer Experience

4-3 retail experience smallToday’s newest retail customers have come of age lacking the sense of limitations in commerce that their elders have long been forced to accept. They don’t see why commerce needs to take place on one channel to the exclusion of another. They will be sure to Yelp your business a new one if you don’t honor your online pricing in your store (or vice versa), or if you refuse to honor a gift card in your store that someone sent the customer by email.

What they want is what’s called—jargon alert—omnichannel. To put it simply, omnichannel is the future of just about everything that involves extracting money from a customer in a way that they actually enjoy having it extracted.

So what does–should–omnichannel look like? Let’s take a peek.

Meghan Millennial’s Omnichannel Shopping Spree

On a late, bright Thursday morning, Meghan Millennial is walking down a Washington, DC, sidewalk when her phone buzzes, inviting her into an adjacent store for a cupcake in a flavor she’s enjoyed there before. Having just eaten brunch (one of the most important meals of the day), she keeps walking, but mentally files the text for later.

Half a block later, a Patagonia store catches her eye and she steps in. As she enters the foyer, her phone buzzes again with a coupon for 20% off for the next two hours on dresses. Meghan likes the offer and works with a salesperson to find the right dress. However, the store doesn’t have it in her size. No biggie: The salesperson locates it in another store and offers to drop-ship it to Meghan’s house.

But wait! Meghan now wants two of the dresses, and Patagonia’s other location only has one. The salesperson locates one dress in that store and one in a store in Ohio, coordinates the drop-shipping for both, and gives her the BOGO (buy one, get one) discount she deserves (better, after all, than the 20% off that tempted her initially), even though both dresses come from different stores, and neither from the store in which she’s standing.

That afternoon, back at home, Meghan finds that three shoeboxes from Macy’s have arrived. Two of the pairs fit her perfectly; the third is too tight. Needing that third style for the weekend, yet dreading the time it’ll take to hunt for the item in person, Meghan opens Macy’s mobile website on her phone before setting out. She finds the shoes in a better-fitting size and orders them for in-store pickup the next morning, which suits her schedule better than waiting at home.

The pickup is ready when she comes in, and with the proximity functionality on her phone, the store’s employees are able to recognize her arrival, stop folding clothes and other low-value tasks, and hurry to meet Meghan at the front door—handy, since in grand DC tradition, she’s double-parked—where they hand her the package and accept her exchange, wishing her well with an e-coupon to return.

All of the channel-melding that our hypothetical Meghan has just enjoyed can currently be accomplished in retail. It isn’t easy for a business to pull off, but customers want and are starting to expect exactly this. Furthermore, customers have little to no understanding of or sympathy for your difficulties in pulling off omnichannel retailing, even though these difficulties are assuredly significant.

Your inventory systems and databases need to be connected. Your return procedures and order histories need to be synchronized. While none of this is easy to accomplish, it’s easier now than it used to be. Companies like Micros, recently acquired by Oracle, specialize in building systems and technology that allow this coordination: When a customer returns a dress via any channel (ships it back, drops it off in-store, etc.) the merchant’s general ledger is adjusted, order history is appended and inventory is updated. So a phone call or Web interaction, even moments after an in-store return, for example, can be based on up-to-the-minute information.

New technology also offers merchants the opportunity to expand inventory beyond what’s in front of the customer: Small retailers can use systems such as the Lightspeed solution, while larger retailers (such as Macy’s) can use the more elaborate systems that Micros and others offer that provide a “show-and-tell” feature with enhanced-resolution photos from multiple angles. This feature allows a customer, still interacting with a salesperson in-store, to examine in detail items that aren’t found on the showroom floor. This, in effect, expands the store’s inventory without requiring the store to commit valuable real estate. And it puts to bed the perennial frustration customers have after schlepping across town to a store only to learn that the desired item is unavailable in the right size/color/fabric.

When this experience becomes truly seamless, truly centered on the customer and her perspective, you’ve achieved true omnichannel.  And the benefit to you is more than the pleasant experience you’ll be providing your customers, although that’s a big part of it. This approach makes sales seamless and almost invisible to boot, and by removing barriers to buying you will likely spur customers to purchase more. When you lower the barrier to returning items, perhaps a few more items get returned, but again, you increase present and future sales due to greater customer comfort with the returns process. When you lower the barrier to reaching your company through any possible channel, you’ll hear from the customer more—and more often with an open pocketbook.




 
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